Over 40 killed in 2019 fire incident in Anaj Mandi factory, Delhi HC told

The Delhi Police, in its status report dated January 10, informed the court that out of the 45 deceased, nine were minors, the youngest aged 12, while six children suffered injuries.

New Delhi: Over 40 people including several minors lost their lives in the December 2019 fire that broke out at a factory in Anaj Mandi here which was illegally storing and using highly inflammable material without safety precautions, the Delhi High Court was informed on Wednesday.

The Delhi Police, in its status report dated January 10, informed the court that out of the 45 deceased, nine were minors, the youngest aged 12, while six children suffered injuries.

Counsel for NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan, the petitioner in the case, said the Delhi Police has confirmed the presence of children in the list of those killed in the tragedy that struck in the early hours of December 8, 2019.

A bench of Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad said it will pass an appropriate order on the plea by the NGO which had moved the high court in the aftermath of the tragedy and sought a direction to the authorities to probe the incident from the angle of child trafficking and child labour.

Police said the deaths happened due to burn injuries or suffocation and, after an investigation, the charge sheet was filed for commission of offences under the Indian Penal Code and the Juvenile Justice Act against the accused persons, including the owner and manager of the building, and the matter was fixed for framing of charges before the trial court.

Lawyer Prabhsahay Kaur, appearing for the petitioner, said although the Delhi police registered an FIR it did not invoke the law against child labour. The lawyer said the authorities have, on several occasions, assured the court they would rescue 500 child labour every month.

The Delhi government counsel said the law against child labour is a social welfare legislation and the authorities should perform a proactive role in its enforcement. The counsel said the fire department was also an important party to the proceedings.

The court inquired about the payment of compensation to the victim families. The court said it will pass and appropriate order.

The Delhi Police said in its status report that the activities being carried out in the building were “completely illegal” and that the premises were very crowded with no clear exit.

It said seven power connections for commercial instead of industrial use were taken for the premises in spite of the presence of heavy machinery. The accused “criminally neglected the upkeep of the building and specially the electric layout that too in a building where illegally highly inflammable material was stored/used,” it alleged.

“The building was neither properly ventilated nor compartmented and also not having fire safety arrangements, where too many occupants were working and residing. The occupants could not escape by themselves as the area near to the staircase was involved in fire and dense smoke filled the rooms completely,” it said.

The majority of the fatalities were caused due to smoke inhalation.

After completion of the investigation, a charge sheet was filed under section 304 (Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 308 (Attempt to commit culpable homicide), 34 (common intention) of the IPC and 79 (Exploitation of child employee) of the Juvenine Justice Act, the report said.

Police said even the main staircase was not clear for free movement of the occupants.

The NGO has claimed most of the children affected by the tragedy hailed from Bihar from where they are brought by traffickers to work in the factories.

“The petitioner’s representatives found questionable persons at the hospital where the children are admitted, with special interest in the children rescued from the Anaj Mandi fire, who are possibly middlemen/traffickers who had brought the children to Delhi for work from their native villages,” the plea claimed.

The petition contended the minors were “tutored and coerced” by the traffickers to say they are 19 years old and were only visiting the factory in the event of getting caught by the authorities. The NGO also alleged the authorities were aware of the presence of child labourers at the factory and were “attempting to cover it up”.

Claiming that children were illegally employed all over Delhi “under the nose of the state authorities”, the petition sought directions to the administration to carry out a time bound comprehensive survey of child and bonded labour and ensure their rescue.

It has also sought directions to the authorities concerned to “rehabilitate, compensate and recover minimum wages of the child labour at the Anaj Mandi establishments” and to seal units employing children.

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